July 7 (Bloomberg) — China’s government said more than 700 people were detained after ethnic rioting in the capital of Xinjiang province killed 156 people. Overseas Uighur groups were responsible for the violence, the government said.
A traffic blockade remained in effect in Urumqi, capital of the northwestern province, as police in riot gear stood guard in downtown areas, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said today. More than 200 “rioters” trying to gather at Id Kah Mosque, the largest in China, were dispersed by the police last night, Xinhua said.
China Central Television yesterday aired images of smoke billowing from vehicles, crowds overturning police cars and bloodied people slumped on sidewalks in Urumqi. More than 825 people were also injured after rioting broke out in the city late on July 5, and the toll is likely to rise, Xinhua cited Liu Yaohua, the region’s police chief, as saying.
The protest spread yesterday to a second city in the region, Kashgar, the Associated Press reported, citing witnesses, including one man who said there hadn’t been any clashes there.
The government said overseas separatists used the deaths of migrant Uighur workers in a factory brawl in southern China to fuel ethnic divisions. As many as 30 million migrant workers have lost their jobs during the global financial crisis, as demand from the U.S. and Europe vanishes, exacerbating already simmering social tensions.
‘Spark Can Spread’
“It’s like Mao Zedong used to say, a spark can spread the fire into the prairie, and that’s the situation in Xinjiang,” said Jean-Philippe Beja, a senior researcher at the French Centre for Studies on Contemporary China in Hong Kong.
Uighurs, a Muslim group comprising about half of Xinjiang’s 20 million people, have long complained of discrimination and unfair division of the region’s resources with the Han, who make up more than 90 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people.
China accuses separatists of terrorist acts, including attacks on police and bombings last year, and has drawn parallels between its attempt to fight the groups and the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
“They think they have a free hand because the Western powers won’t really come up to defend Uighurs, who are of course Muslims, and it’s easy to say that they are fundamentalist,” Beja said.
As of 2007, Xinjiang, a landlocked region about the size of Alaska, had the second-highest proven reserves of crude oil and natural gas among China’s 31 provinces and was the biggest producer of cotton. Per-capita annual income of rural households was 3,183 yuan ($466), against a national average of 4,140 yuan.
The regional government blamed Rebiya Kadeer, head of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, for fomenting the unrest.
“They always blame somebody else for their own problems,” said Alim Seytoff, a Washington-based spokesman for the congress. “They never say it’s their problem, their policies, it’s their treatment, it’s their systematic abuse.”
The violence is the worst since ethnic unrest broke out in Lhasa, capital of Tibet, in March 2008. The government cast those riots as Tibetan violence directed at Han Chinese and Hui, a minority group that is ethnically similar to the Han.
The government’s strategy of broadcasting images of the Xinjiang protests is similar to that used in March 2008, when the focus on Tibetan acts of violence was used as justification for the subsequent police and military crackdown, Beja said.
China says at least 19 people died in last year’s Tibetan riots, the biggest protests in almost 20 years. Tibet’s government-in-exile said more than 200 Tibetans were killed in the ensuing crackdown, which sparked protests in Tibetan- inhabited areas of other provinces including Sichuan and Gansu.
Order had been partially restored to Urumqi, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) from Beijing, Xinhua reported. Most roads had been cleared as of midday yesterday local time, though most shops in the areas affected remained closed.
Fifty-seven bodies were retrieved from the streets, while the remainder were confirmed dead at hospitals, said Liu, the police chief. Rioters burned 261 vehicles and destroyed 203 shops, authorities said.
The Web sites of the Xinjiang government and the Urumqi city government were inaccessible yesterday. Conrad Bauer, an English teacher in the city of Shihezi, in northern Xinjiang, said Internet access for Shihezi University was also cut.
Video clips on Google Inc.’s YouTube purporting to be from the city showed hundreds of chanting protesters marching down main roads, blocking traffic. There was no sign of violence or police.
The Uyghur Congress’s Seytoff said the march had begun as a peaceful demonstration and spiraled out of control because of heavy-handed tactics used by the Chinese police.
Nur Bekri, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, said in a televised speech yesterday that the riot was triggered by the death of two Uighur workers in a factory brawl in Guangdong province in June, Xinhua reported. That incident also had ethnic overtones, with the Uighur workers fighting ethnic- Han workers, according to the news agency.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dune Lawrence in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: July 6, 2009 14:49 EDT
Source: The Financial Times
Around 140 people had been killed in a riot in Urumqi, the capital of China’s western-most region of Xinjiang, state media and local reports said on Monday, as the Beijing government faced the most severe unrest in ethnic minority areas since the rioting in Tibet last March.
The unrest erupted at the weekend after an anti-discrimination protest by ethnic Uighurs, the region’s indigenous, largely Muslim inhabitants, was confronted by armed police.
The increasing importance of the Xinjiang autonomous region as a source of the energy and minerals needed to fuel China’s booming economy has raised the stakes for Beijing in its battle against separatists agitating for an independent state. Last year, Uighur resentment was exacerbated by a massive security operation timed to coincide with the Olympic and Paralympic Games period and a number of attacks by suspected separatists left dozens dead.
Reports by China Central Television, the main state broadcaster, as well as online video footage from several independent sources showed a marching crowd clashing with police in heavy gear and some people smashing shop windows with rocks. Available footage also showed the crowd overturning cars and burning buses and buildings in the city. Explosions and gunshots could be heard in the background.
As with the Tibet unrest last year, the government accused overseas forces of instigating the violence.
On Monday, the authorities took draconian measures to prevent the spread of information. Residents of Urumqi said they could no longer make outgoing calls but only receive calls, and internet access in the city was completely cut. The government also blocked a wide range of internet sites, and internet hosts took down sensitive content. Even the internet pages of the Xinjiang regional government could no longer be accessed. Blogs with content related to Uighurs were blocked, and even many Xinjiang-themed online chat rooms were completely closed down on Monday.
The CCTV news broadcast on Monday morning said that the World Uygur Congress, led by Rebiya Kabeer, a Uighur businesswoman living in exile in the US, used the internet and other channels to appeal to Uighurs living in China to resort to bold action.
“Serious rioting” began at around 8pm on July 5, the report said, leading to “the murder of a number of innocent bystanders and one armed police” by 11:30pm.
Chinese security forces restored a tense calm in Urumqi on Monday but quickly raised their estimate of the number killed. After initially reporting just three dead, Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, said that the death toll had gone up to 140 by early afternoon and over 800 had been injured. A local government official in Xinjiang who asked not to be identified said 180 Han Chinese had been killed according to an internal briefing.
A crowd of several hundred had initially gathered to demand a fair and transparent investigation into a violent standoff between Han Chinese and Uighur workers in a toy factory in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong late last month which left two Uighur workers dead, participants of the rally said.
A Han Chinese secretary in central Urumqi reached by phone on Monday morning said: “I am at work as usual, and it is quiet outside … There is more police in the streets than usual though.”
Police said it had traffic controls in place in the city, banning vehicles from some downtown streets. Sources in Kashgar and Kuqa, two other cities in Xinjiang, said those two cities were quiet, and trains and long-distance bus connections within the region and into Urumqi remained open.
Overseas Uighur representatives denied fanning the violence in China and pointed to Beijing’s record of blaming every unrest on foreign forces. Alim Seytoff, general secretary of the Uyghur American Association, said the authorities were searching university dormitories for participants in the unrest.
“They always blame somebody else for their own problems,” said Mr Seytoff. “They never say it’s their problem, their policies, it’s their treatment, it’s their systematic abuse.”
6 Jul 2009 12:15pm
By Kathrin Hille in Beijing